Designation Process

Believing that community engagement is one of the key ways the curriculum serves the University’s mission to educate “morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good,” the Office of Civic Engagement has been tracking "engaged" courses since 2008. The designation process enables the Office of Civic Engagement to:

  • Ensure that community engagement meets the best standards of practice;
  • Track student participation in the community and engagement with varying community partners;
  • Disclose faculty expectations regarding community engagement to students prior to their enrollment;
  • Quantify community engagement for renewals of the Carnegie Foundation’s “engaged campus” category;
  • Strengthen grant applications;
  • Budget properly, ensuring fairness across the various colleges, departments, and units it serves.

There are other good reasons to designate courses in community engagement:

  • Designating a course provides faculty with staff support in the design, implementation, and evaluation of engagement in the community, including help with finding a community partner (if desired). Those seeking support finding organizations will discover UST is connected to both global and local partners.
  • Engaging in the community can help to revitalize teaching by fostering reciprocal learning. By developing students’ civic and leadership skills, students increase their understanding of the topic and develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. In collaboration with community partners, faculty research and writing can also be greatly enriched.
  • Current annual review, tenure and promotion policies in the College of Arts and Sciences recognize the offering of quality community engagement courses as meritorious. Designating a course as "Tier 2" assists the faculty member in making his or her case to the Dean for a meritorious rating.
  • Because community engagement entails risk, the Office of Civic Engagement provides liability assistance for courses engaging in the community.
  • The Office of Civic Engagement publicizes designated courses on its website. Students who are looking for opportunities to engage in the community within the context of their coursework will be able to find only courses that have gone through the designation process—ostensibly attracting a higher-caliber student who is searching for these opportunities. These appear under "attributes" when students are registering on Murphy, and the courses can be sorted by searching for the engagement attribute.
  • Faculty who designate courses are able to access budgetary and logistical support from the Office of Civic Engagement, including pre- and post-experience surveys for assessment (when available). Down the road, such assessment data might be useful when faculty are writing an article on this potentially transformative pedagogy, thereby serving faculty research agendas.
  • Only faculty members who designate courses are eligible to be considered for the annual faculty award for outstanding work in community engagement.

Our Office is here to support you. Contact us if you have any questions or concerns. The first official step is to fill out a designation applicaiton form: DESIGNATION APPLICATION FORM

The course designation process is simple.

  • Fill out the online form. Currently, the University of St. Thomas designates specific sections of classes. Therefore, each faculty member needs to submit one form for each section of a course she or he is offering with community engagement each semester. The Office of Community Engagement is working hard to make the process as easy as possible. If you are applying for a Tier 2 designation, before you start filling out the online form, please know you will be asked to describe how your course meets the following five criteria:

      • RECIPROCAL ENGAGEMENT: Both the community partner and the University benefit from the relationship.
      • ORIENTATION: Students will be properly oriented to the work of the organization and the work they are being asked to provide in collaboration with the community partner.
      • QUALITY REFLECTION: Opportunities for structured reflection (written, verbal or other) are incorporated into the course.
      • COMMON GOOD: The community engagement component benefits the common good and raises issues of social responsibility.
      • STUDENT EVALUATION: Students are assessed on the quality of their academic work in relation to their community engagement.

  • Upload your syllabus. The form requires faculty to upload their syllabus (including a description of the community engagement component).

  • Submit the form. Once the form is submitted, it is sent to members of the sub-committee of GALE currently overseeing course designations. The subcommittee will meet to review all applications.

  • Wait for notification. The subcommittee will determine whether courses qualify as “tier 1” or “tier 2.” The committee reserves the right to contact faculty for additional information if what is provided is insufficient to make a determination. The program manager inform the faculty member of the committee’s approval and budget allocation, and will offer to coordinate support services, including transportation, multicultural training, orientation sessions, and so on. In the rare cases where a component or course needs further development before approval, the Director of Civic Engagement will contact the faculty member to provide the committee’s feedback.

Upon approval by the proper committee, the registrar’s office will designate the course on Murphy. Students successfully completing courses designated at the Tier 2 level will also receive a notation indicating their community engagement on their transcripts. These appear in full print immediately after the course is listed on the transcript.

Please note the following:

  • Applications are typically due one month prior to the opening of registration. Typically, the forms will be due one month prior to registration so that the sub-committee can meet to determine whether the course qualifies as “tier 1” or “tier 2,” and to allow adequate time for the registrar to enter “tier 2” courses into Murphy for visibility during registration and for coding on student transcripts. In addition, both “tier 1” and “tier 2” courses will be advertised on the civic engagement website. Courses can be designated after the deadline, but every effort should be made in subsequent semesters to meet the deadline. Unfortunately, budgetary support cannot be approved for late submissions.

  • Automatic re-approval. Once a course has been approved, so long as there are only minimal changes to the design and implementation of the community engagement component, acceptance will be automatic. However, because these courses are designated by section, not by course, the form will need to be submitted each time a faculty member desires a section of a course to be given the designation.

St. Thomas is implementing a two-tier system for community engagement course designation.

Tier 1:
Community engagement courses designated as "tier 1" are courses with a community-based component. Rather than being integrated throughout the entire course, the engagement and reflection upon it typically satisfies the requirements for a single unit, or it may be optional for students, or faculty are venturing into engaged pedagogies slowly. Courses with fewer hours of engagement (between 5 and 15 hours) will typically qualtify as "tier 1" courses, though number of hours in the community is not the only consideration as courses are evaluated for "tier 1" or "tier 2" status. Tier 1 courses enable faculty to access the office's services, including budget and liability oversight, while simultaneously enabling the office to streamline communication with varying community partners. Because there is not thorough integration throughout the entire course or because the engagement is not required of every student, these courses will NOT receive an attribute on student transcripts.

Tier 2:
Community engagement courses designated as "tier 2" have a more thoroughly integrated community-based experience. The engagement and reflection upon it are integrated throughout the entire course, the engagement and reflection upon it are required of all students, and the pedagogy is being used to assist the faculty member to meet his or her overall course objectives. Typically, the "tier 2" course will require 15-30 (or more) hours of engagement in the community. Tier 2 courses enable faculty to access the office's services, including budget and liability oversight, as well as assistance with opening orientation and closing celebration events (if applicable). These courses WILL receive an attribute on student transcripts.

Following Barbara Jacoby, the University of St. Thomas defines community engagement as: “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs, together with structured opportunities for reflection designed to achieve desired learning outcomes” (Jacoby, 1-2). In order to qualify as a community engagement course at the deeper “tier 2” level, the following criteria must be met. It will be helpful to faculty to write a couple of sentences about how their course meets each criterion before faculty members open the online designation form.

  1. Reciprocal Engagement
    “Reciprocity means that we, as [community-based] educators, related to the community in the spirit of partnership, viewing the institution and the community in terms of both assets and needs. . . . Reciprocity implies that the community is not a learning laboratory and that [community engagement] should be designed with the community to meet needs identified by the community” (Jacoby, 3-4).

  2. Student Orientation
    “Orientation programs engage new students in [community engagement] to achieve many purposes, including introducing students to peers, to communities around campus, and to experiential learning and reflection. Outcomes can also include exploring the meaning of community, understanding self in relation to others, civility, and community standards of behavior” (Jacoby, 140).

  3. Quality Reflection
    “Critical reflection is the process of analyzing, reconsidering, and questioning one’s experiences within a broad context of issues and content knowledge. . . . Experience without critical reflection can all too easily allow students to reinforce their stereotypes about people who are different from themselves, develop simplistic solutions to complex problems, and generate inaccurately based data. . . . ‘Critical reflection is the active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends’ [Dewey]. It is guiding students through the process of considering and reconsidering their values, beliefs, and acquired knowledge that enables them to question and challenge their stereotypes and other a priori assumptions” (Jacob, 26-27).

  4. Common Good
    “The human person is both sacred and social. We realize our dignity and rights in relationship with others, in community. Human beings grow and achieve fulfillment in community. Human dignity can only be realized and protected in the context of relationships with the wider society. How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy — directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. The obligation to “love our neighbor” has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the good of the whole society, to the common good.” (Catholic Charities, “Key Principles of Catholic Social Teaching,”

  5. Student Evaluation
    “Grades and credits are not awarded for doing the service, as they would not be awarded for doing the required reading. . . . [F]aculty members [evaluate] and grade the learning that students demonstrate. In [community engagement], faculty assign grades to students based on the extent to which they can successfully [provide] evidence [of] what they have learned from the community experience. [F]aculty also evaluate how well students apply what they have learned in the particular community context. In addition, they assess the quality of the students’ critical reflection and analysis of the connections between academic content and experiences” (Jacoby, 103).

Barbara Jacoby, Service-Learning Essentials: Questions, Answers, and Lessons Learned (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015). Additionally, Jacoby writes about the importance of program assessment, which is a task our Office undertakes each semester: “In the context of student learning and development, assessment . . . describes the process of determining the extent to which a particular outcome or set of outcomes has been achieved by an individual or a group. [Community engagement] outcomes assessment . . . measures the extent to which desired outcomes are achieved for students, communities, faculty, and institutions. Its purpose is to gather, analyze, and interpret various forms of evidence to increase outcome attainment by improving practice” (Jacoby, 155-156).

Faculty FAQs

Once you have completed and submitted the designation form, it will be forwarded to members of the designation subcommittee of the GALE Advisory Board where decisions about the course and its budgetary requests will be made. The program manager will communicate the subcommittee's decision and, if accepted, will register your course in Banner so that the attribute appears on Murphy. Designation forms are typically due one month prior to registration so that the process can unfold in order to make UST students fully aware of the designation when they register.

We do accept late designation forms. If you are requiring students to engage in the community, you should at least register the course with our Office. If you meet the deadline each term, you will have access to the budgetary support that our Office provides. However, if you miss the deadline, the Office staff will make every effort to work with you to designate the course even into the semester, so that students can be given credit on their transcripts for engagement and to be of support to you throughout the engagement.

Yes! Contact us to set up an appointment for a consultation. We have several organizations with which we currently work and with whom you might engage, or we can explore a brand new partnership together. In the meanwhile, you can explore some partners with whom we have engaged in the past.

We are wanting to keep updated syllabi on file in our office, so we do ask you to submit a copy of your syllabus each semester.

We recognize that there is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach to community engagement, but we do include quality reflection as one measure of effective community engagement. This will look different in biology classes than in English classes. On your application, please indicate your approach to reflection. Will you be examining social structures, or will you be reflecting on the complications of testing water quality controls? In more traditional engagements, faculty may decide to have students keep academic journal entries throughout the duration the course. Others might require students to post entries on a discussion board in Blackboard. Some professors assign several papers, each one going deeper—for example, from a descriptive analysis, to an analytical paper, finally to an integrative one. Whichever plan you use, it is important that your students take time to reflect on what they are learning in the community and how it applies to their work in the classroom.

Generally, yes, though there are exceptions. Your students should be engaged in the community in an effort to better understand the organization's functions, clients, and/or stakeholders. There are exceptions, though, so please consult with our staff if your project is unique in some way.

We advise that you take time in your classroom to provide your students with an orientation presented by your community partner so that students know who they will be serving and what to expect when they begin their engagement. If many classes are working with the same organization, it might be beneficial for all parties concerned to organize a single orientation session during convo hour. Our office can help coordinate and support student orientations.